I mentioned earlier after the demise of my Airline I obtained a job working at a
repair station or Fixed Base Operator (F.B.O.) in Southern California on Boeing
747's. The 747 was an airplane that
I had always wanted to work on and I would have to say it is because it is the
largest flying commercial aircraft in the world. I likewise have as much desire to work on the Concord because
it is the fastest flying commercial aircraft in the world.
But you can forget about the Concord because of the employment
restrictions British Airways are forced to operate under.
You would have to be a British citizen and reside in Great Britain to get
hired by them. The closest I have
ever gotten to Concord was the opportunity I got to sit in the left seat on the
ground at Springfield Illinois of all places.
It had been chartered by a travel group to pick them up and fly them to
Great Britain. When it arrived,
airport personnel were invited to take a tour of the aircraft and that's how I
became so fortunate. I also managed
to stand underneath Concord as it sat on the ramp at Miami International
Airport. When you walk onboard the
aircraft and down the isle, it has the smell of money.
The carpeting is immaculate and the seats are all made out of leather.
I arrived in southern California I tried to get a pass to enter the military
base that the repair station was located at so I could put my toolbox in the
hangar. To my surprise I was
refused permission. I asked the
lady behind the counter what she expected me to do with my toolbox and she told
me to put it in my apartment until my orientation was completed. I was completely dumbfounded by her answer and told her that
this wasn't a toolbox you could carry in your hands and that it weighed over 500
lbs. I asked her how I was supposed
to get something that big and heavy into my second floor apartment.
Her reply was that it wasn't her problem. Looking back on the matter this
was my first indication of the insensitivity that I would be confronted with for
my entire employment there. I got
so mad I felt like yanking this bitch right through her stupid little window,
but I remained diplomatic and left the office before I did something I would
the second month of my employment I came down with a serious case of bronchitis
that almost put me in the hospital. From
my boot camp experiences in the Coast Guard I can easily understand this.
Whenever you bring together a group of people from all over the country
as my company did, somebody will bring a case of the flu with them that knocks
people out because they have no natural immunity to it.
When it hit me, it congested my lungs terribly, took away my voice and
caused me to vomit. The lung
congestion was the worst part of it because I was experiencing smog for the
first time in my life and the mucous in my lungs was so thick it was extremely
difficult to cough up. It became
very difficult to breathe and I was required by my doctor to visit a respiratory
therapist for an examination. During
the exam it was revealed that I had asthma, which I never had before I came to
California. On trips that I made
some time later to Phoenix Arizona where the air quality is better, I found that
part of the problem was the smog. It
seemed that everyone around me was getting sick.
I was out of action for five days. After
the first two days I showed up at work and was told to go home because I was
sick and that I wasn't needed because we were waiting for our next airplane and
it wouldn't arrive for several days. At
this point I need to jump ahead six months because at this time I was counseled
for excessive absence. This
completely blew me away. There I
was, under the care of a physician, medicated, unable to speak, almost
hospitalized, they tell me to go home and then discipline me for excessive
absence six months later. What a
company! Hang on I'm only getting
our orientation the same lady that gave me a hard time about my toolbox
conducted most of it. She told us
that this kind of company was going to become the way of the future in aviation
because they could provide the same kind of maintenance at a lower cost and in
shorter period of time. She added
that the company was aware of the beating we had received at our various
airlines and promised us that we would be treated better. We were told by the chief of security where to park our cars
when we came to work. This was a
parking lot over a half a mile away from the hangars.
It didn't take long for us to find that there was a parking lot right
next to our hangar that was hardly used by anyone, military included.
Yet we were not supposed park there according to the companies chief of
security. This chief of security
was a real stooge. He was retired military police and suffered from the same
condition that most people who are retired military suffer from.
Namely they never get over the fact that they have retired and returned
to civilian life. But this guy was worse because of the position he was in,
which gave him the illusion that he was still in the military police.
I called him the chief of security which was his title, but I should
mention that he was the only person in the department.
So in actuality he was a chief of nothing.
After walking to and from work in the pouring rain for two months and
contracting bronchitis I decided that I would risk getting a ticket for parking
in the lot next to the hangar. I
was lucky, he never got me, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
first operation was to ticket all employee vehicles for failure to register in
California after the hiring had ceased thirty days prior.
This was a very big mistake. on
his part because he didn't know the kind of people he was dealing with.
While the ticketing for vehicle registration was underway he was
ticketing cars in the forbidden parking lot I was using and in the authorized
lot. We had a system set up to
protect ourselves though. It was
decided by mutual agreement that if anyone parked in the forbidden lot and saw
this asshole in the lot giving out tickets they would park their car, go into
the hangar and announce on the public address system that he was ticketing cars
in the parking lot. Then a mob of
mechanics in unison would stop what they were doing and go out and move their
cars to the authorized lot. With
all these tickets going out many people decided to defend themselves in court.
Because the tickets were being given on a military base the cases had to
be seen by a federal magistrate. During
these trials it was determined by a federal judge that the tickets that were
issued to employees for parking in the forbidden lot were not valid because you
can park anywhere on the base that isn't designated by a sign stating
"Military Only." As for the tickets issued for lack of California
registration it was determined by the judge that there was no way possible to
determine the date- that the vehicles were brought into the state and as a
result the tickets were issued without verifiable proof.
After a few of the cases were tried the judge realized that there were
many cases to hear because each employee that was ticketed plead not guilty
individually. Rather than hear each
case the judge summarily dismissed them all.
about the 747 is big. There is
nothing small about it except for some of the parts.
To give you an idea, each engine weighs approximately 12,500 lbs., the
dash 200 model can carry 344,640 lbs. of fuel maximum, each brake assembly
weighs 280 lbs. and there are
sixteen of them, each engine produces between 43,500 and 54,750 lbs. of thrust
depending on the engine model and there are four of them, the jet blast at
43,500 lbs. of thrust is 100 feet per second as far away as 485 feet.
As astronomical as these weights and measures are, likewise is the cost
of most the aircraft's components.
example at 1975 prices an engine costs $1,000,000, an engine driven fuel pump is
$1,500, a cockpit windshield is $16,250, a coffee maker costs $680, a jet fuel
control costs $25,128, an aircraft battery costs $ 1,200, an engine starter
costs $3,000, a generator costs $3,200 and there is a starter and generator on
each engine. lf you were to take
the combined electrical output of all five generators you could power a small
neighborhood at maximum load. This
should put everything into. perspective.
The operators of these aircraft are into big bucks because that's what it
takes to maintain and operate them. But
if you consider that the aircraft can carry 437 passengers you can make big
bucks. The only problem is filling
those seats with paying passengers. If
you are unable to fill those seats the airplane can bleed an airlines bank
account faster than if you took the money out of the bank and started. throwing it into the air.
It is for these reasons that the 747 is an aircraft that is profitable
only under the right conditions. Just
as there are niche airlines that are very profitable as long as they operate
within their limitations or niche, likewise the 747 is a profitable aircraft as
long as it is operated on routes where the passenger load factors are high
enough to fill it to near capacity. This
is one of the factors that brought about the end of Pan American Airways.
They couldn't fill the 747 enough to make it pay and they were unable or
unwilling to get rid of the behemoth before it killed their company.
Now I'm not saying that the 747 was the reason the airline went out of
business, that would be foolish considering the host of other reasons that were
just as blamable. Considering that
Pan Am hung on to the 747 to the end and that during this time they experienced
a dramatic decline in passenger load factors it would be logical to assume that
the aircraft played a significant role in it's demise.
I have been told by Pan Am employees that near the end they were flying
from Great Britain to New York with only eleven paying passengers onboard.
I was told that on some flights they would move the passengers to first
class so the employees could play a game of catch with a baseball and gloves in
the back. If this was happening
they should have dropped the 747 like a hot potato.
first days at the 747 repair station were great. The place was brand new, the floors were spotless because we
had only worked on one airplane and it was still in the hangar.
My friend Keith Dempsey and I had just driven from Chicago and we were
quite pumped up about getting in on the ground floor of a new company.
He was a little more pumped up than I was.
I realized that this was a new company that hadn't made dime one, which
to my way of thinking wasn't much different than working for a company in
chapter eleven. Before we left
Chicago we had agreed to go together and split the cost of the move down the
middle. This worked out real well
for both of us. It provided
multiple drivers so we could cover allot of ground in a short amount of time.
we began to put the first airplane back together I discovered that the parts
were everywhere. You could find a
passenger seat in one corner of the hangar upstairs and find the one that was
supposed to go next to it downstairs in the opposite corner of the hangar.
It was not uncommon to get a card to install a part and spend four hours
of an eight hour shift looking for the part you were supposed to install.
Then there were the new parts we were supposed to install that weren't
there because no one had ordered them. I
was told by the mechanics that had arrived before me that when the airplane was
taken apart they gutted it and put the parts anywhere they felt like.
They hadn't ordered any parts because they had focused all of their
efforts on the work cards due to the shortage of manpower in the beginning.
parts room remained a serious problem throughout my employment at this facility.
It never failed that the part I was looking for never left shipping and
receiving and I would have to walk half a mile to get it.
Everybody was affected by this problem and it got so bad that at one
point an edict was issued that forbid us to go to shipping and receiving to get
parts. I knew that because they
never kept a constant supply of parts that they should have in stock at all
times that this edict wouldn't last more than a few days at the most and I was
first time I went to shipping and receiving I was looking for a bolt.
I asked the guy working there to look it up in the computer which he did.
The records in the computer said that the bolt I was looking for was in a
bin at a certain location, but when I went there to get it, the bolt wasn't
there. So I looked in the immediate
vicinity expecting to find bolts of different types grouped in the same area and
was stunned when I discovered they were not.
I went back to the guy and asked him why all the bolts weren't grouped
together in the same spot and was told that they had so little time to organize
things when they started that they just put things on any shelf they could find
as the parts came in. I asked him
if there were any plans to fix the situation and was told that there wasn't.
Because all the bolts weren't grouped together in one spot and instead
were haphazardly placed throughout shipping and receiving I was forced to do a
shelf by shelf search through the entire department till I found what I was
I did this I noticed that these same conditions prevailed for the screws, the
hose clamps, the rivets and everything else.
I began to realize that I was going to be spending allot of wasted time
in here and all of it could have been avoided by using a few simple
organizational skills that elementary school children possess.
I became very frustrated and angry over this.
after I had arrived, Pan Am had finally called it quits and my company sent
representatives to New York and Miami to suck up as many employees as possible.
The people who came to us, came from the other side of our country,
"Coast To Coast In Search Of A Job." Some of them were the best
mechanics I have ever seen.
these mechanics began to arrive from all over the United States the pace of the
work began to pick up. This
airplane was so completely disassembled that I had my doubts we could ever make
it fly again. I had never seen an
airplane dismantled to the extent that this one was.
We had removed the engines, the engine support pylons and the inner and
outer flaps along with all the flap tracks.
One evening I came to work and was told that we had to jack the airplane
up so a tail jacking cradle could be put in place. When a large aircraft is jacked the major load bearing jacks
are placed at the wing roots near the leading edge of each wing and at the tail.
This creates a tripod of support for the aircraft.
(See Figure One). The jacks
that are placed under the wings and nose of the airplane are only for
stabilization, not for lifting. Putting
the tail cradle in would permit completion of the exterior skin lap seam
modification. Before we had even
begun to lift the airplane I knew that something was wrong.
The first thing I asked was, "Where is the jacking paperwork?"
The answer was that there wasn't any. We
cleared the aircraft of manlift's that were in the immediate area and began to
jack the aircraft. We were well
into the procedure when the shift manager took control of the operation away
from the man who had been in charge for no justifiable reason.
The tail was lifted by a tail jack until the cradle could be placed in
the proper position and then the tail was lowered into the cradle.
The cradle is attached to a jack which was used for the second phase of
the operation. The paperwork for
the lap seam modification stated that the cradle should be lifted by the jack
until 38,000 lbs. was obtained. The
shift manager with the determination of a kamikaze pilot stared intently at the
pressure gauge as he took the controls of the jack and lifted the cradle. He lifted and lifted and lifted more. He lifted until some mechanics at the wing root jacks
screamed for him to stop. This
idiot had lifted the airplane until it was only supported at the nose cradle and
the tail cradle six hundred feet away from it.
literally bent the airplane. On the
fuselage there was buckled skin everywhere and because the tail jack on a 747 is
placed off center not only had the airplane been bent in half it was also
twisted in a clockwise direction as viewed from the nose.
If this wasn't calamitous enough he made things worse by ordering the
wing root jacks to go up to make contact with the jack pads on the airplane.
Then he lowered the tail jacking cradle till the tail jack made contact
with its jack pad. This caused the
aircraft to pitch in a nose up direction which forced the nose of the aircraft
into the nose dock, which is a large steel work platform that surrounds the nose
of the airplane. When this occurred
thirteen holes were punched into the skin ranging from one to twelve inches in
size, in an area that had just been completed by the sheet metal crew.
what went wrong? First you must realize that jacking an airplane is the most
dangerous operation that can take place in a hangar. A guy that I worked with at the commuter became the director
of maintenance for a regional airline after my airline went out of business.
He was told by one of his mechanics that they didn't have the right jacks
to do a landing gear retraction check. He
told them to use what was available and when the gear were retracted the
aircraft fell off one of the jacks and crushed a mechanic to death.
No jacking procedure should be undertaken without paperwork.
Paperwork that includes steps for clearing the aircraft of all obstacles,
the placement of required equipment and spaces provided for the initials or
employee number of the person doing the work.
In a jacking operation it should be clearly understood by everyone that
the voice of one man stops the show. This
is essential to the safety of the mechanics and the aircraft.
It is also unwise to continuously jack an airplane while you stare
mindlessly into a pressure gauge. Take
the time to stop periodically and poll your people at the other parts of the
airplane. You must realize at all
times that even though you may be jacking one part of the airplane, it is still
attached to the rest of the airplane and what you do on one end can make
something happen hundreds of feet away from you.
It should be the policy of management to appoint a person in charge and
keep him in command. This shift
manager by injecting himself into the situation created confusion amongst the
troops. No one knew who was in
charge. It may sound silly but I
believe that the person in charge of a jacking operation or any other
potentially dangerous procedure should wear a colored hard hat so that everyone
will know who is in command. The
military does it and for good reason.
reason why this turned into a fiasco is that the shift manger read in the
service bulletin that he should jack the cradle till he obtained 38,000 lbs.
He never considered the condition the aircraft was in.
All four engines, the engine support pylons and the flaps were removed. The shift manager should have asked himself if the paperwork
meant 38,000 lbs. with the aircraft in its current condition and if the
paperwork was unclear he should have asked someone. By his demonstration with all of this equipment removed from
the airplane you will never get 38,000 lbs. on the pressure gauge.
Speaking of the pressure gauge we discovered later that the pressure
gauge was out of calibration and that the gauge had come from another jack on
the ramp with a different cylinder diameter.
In fact it had never been calibrated by my company since they bought it.
If someone had checked for a current calibration sticker on the gauge
that would have ended the procedure before it had begun.
A check for current calibration of all equipment should be included in
all paperwork and a place provided for a mechanic sign off.
Also you can't swap pressure gauges on a jack without first determining
that the cylinder diameters are identical and to be on the safe side you
shouldn't do it at all.
it turned out the Boeing Aircraft Company had to be called to determine if the
airplane was still capable of being used or if it should be sold for scrap.
We went home that night asking ourselves where they dug up these people.
We were all certain that Boeing would tell us the next day that we had
destroyed the airplane. We felt
that even if the blessing had been given, to be on the safe side it would
probably be best not to fly it again. We
figured that this would be the position that Boeing would take.
Instead they gave authorization to fly the airplane and when I returned
for work the next day my lead mechanic told me that the airplane in flight is
subjected to even greater loads. Personally
I have my doubts about that. I have
seen movie footage of wings flapping from flight loads and other parts of the
airplane bending and twisting during flight, we all have.
The difference here is that flight loads cause momentary distortion.
In this case the aircraft was subjected to a force that severely deformed
the aircraft and it remained in this condition for at least an hour.
It would be very interesting to attach some lasers to the vertical
stabilizer to determine how far out of specs the alignment is or to pass the
beam across the surface of the skin to see how far the airplane was bent Some
time later the shift manger that bent the airplane was promoted to director of
the safety department. We have a saying in this business that if you want a
promotion break something.
the re-assembly of the aircraft the upper and lower halves of the rudder had to
be re-installed after repairs had been performed on them.
Sheet metal had been removed from the leading edge of the rudders and
thicker, stronger metal installed to comply with a service bulletin.
As the upper half was raised into position something went wrong with the
crane that was hoisting it into position and it fell to ground with a crash.
Fortunately no one was hurt, but the rudder was severely damaged.
It took about two weeks to repair the damage to the rudder and at the
same time the crane went in for repairs. When
both were fixed another attempt to install the rudder was made and during the
second attempt the crane went out of control and the rudder fell for a second
time. This time the damage to the
rudder was not as severe. When the
crane was repaired again a third attempt was made and the accident happened
again. The real damage to the
rudder occurred during the first attempt at installation, the damage on the
second and third attempts was less severe.
the airplane finally put back together and all of the ground checks and engine
run-ups completed she was ready for the local acceptance flight (L.A.F.).
I was very concerned that because we had bent the airplane it would not
fly true through the air. As it
happened the L.A.F. went off
without a hitch. But when the
aircraft returned from the flight an inspector noticed something wrong with the
rudder. He got into a cherry picker
and went up for a look see and discovered that somebody had screwed up big time.
On a 747 there is a rather large gap between the vertical stabilizer and
the rudder. This gap is filled in
by a gap seal made of nylon covered rubber that is held in place by screws.
The purpose of the gap seal is to streamline the flow of air as it passes
over the gap between the vertical stabilizer and the rudder and to maintain this
smooth airflow as the rudder moves left or right.
The rubber gap seals are attached by screws to gap seal panels, which
have to be removed to gain access to the rudder attachment fittings so the
rudder can be removed. During the
first removal of the rudder someone noticed that these gap seals were worn and
replaced them. When they were
replaced the mechanic paid no attention to the length of the screws.
When the panels with the new gap seals installed were put back on the
airplane, again no one noticed the length of the screws.
Because the screws were so long they came into contact with the new skin
which had just been installed on the leading edge of the rudder.
As the rudder moved left and right during the test flight the ends of the
screws gouged deeply into the new skin. In
many places the screws actually cut right through the new skin on the leading
edge. Once again the repairs had to
be performed all over again, this time for the fourth time.
Finally we got it right.
this facility opened most of the special tools and ground equipment that they
had acquired were bought from Eastern Airlines when they liquidated.
Anybody who knows anything about Eastern knows that they never flew
747's. Their wide body aircraft was
the L-1011 and we only worked on 747's. This
meant that allot of the parts and hardware that was purchased by the company
during start-up couldn't be used by us.
of the equipment that they had bought was mostly junk.
We had no permanent scaffolding to put around the airplane.
So we were forced to use manlifts' or scissors lifts when we were working
above the ground and when you work on a 747 ninety percent of the work performed
is above ground. The first lifts we
had to work with were electrically powered.
These lifts are the most vile and detestable things I have ever used.
In order to be effective you need enough of them for two shifts, this way
one group of them can be down for recharging while the other group is being
used. Needless to say we didn't
have that many of them. Because of
this they were always dropping dead when you needed them to move the most.
It never failed that if we had to move the airplane one of them would
drop dead on its way out of the hangar blocking the exit of the airplane.
The amount of man-hours wasted hauling this diseased equipment away was
unbelievable. In the early days of
the repair station there were so few manlifts’ and they were the only thing
available to get up on the aircraft, mechanics were fighting for them to get
their work done. If you didn't get
one before anybody else at the beginning of the shift you might spend four hours
on the floor doing nothing just waiting for a man lift to complete the work
assigned to you. The company spent
thousands of dollars to construct over the wing scaffolding, but after the first
two of them were built somebody (probably a lowly mechanic) went out with a tape
measure and found that there was no way to put the airplane and the scaffolding
into the hangar at the same time because they wouldn't fit.
The hangar wasn't wide enough. Keep
in mind that all of these things are being decided upon by people with Bachelors
Degrees. Educated people who are
supposed to be smart enough to know better.
some reason all of the screwballs and incompetents flocked to the day shift.
Now I know you will say well that's because I worked on the evening
shift. I would say that, yes I did
work on the evening shift but when we would come in for work there would always
be some kind of damage done by the day shift that would set the schedule back a
few days. When anyone screwed up on the evening shift it wouldn't be
very long before that person would put in for the day shift and there were
plenty of opportunities to put in for shift change.
of us had come from an airline that had died or from a defense contractor like
McDonnell Douglas. When you have a
situation like this the work being done will take longer than a crew that has
worked together for a while and gotten to know each other.
With this in mind getting to know each other would seem to be a major
priority for a company that was just starting out and considering the condition
the tool room was in it was an even greater factor.
Because we were very short on special tools it became extremely important
to know what special tools each mechanic had in his tool box.
For example in my first crew I knew that Aldo had a tire valve stem
adapter so I could put nitrogen into the tires and service them.
If I was assigned to work interiors I knew that Sebastian had his trusty
seat wrench that he made while he was at Pan Am and was the on1y tool that would
make short work.. of Pan Am seats.
This is knowledge that gets a job done in the shortest time possible.
Which in turn gets the airplane out the door on schedule. Since we were a company that is just starting out it would be
unwise to shuffle the work crews and work shifts around needlessly.
Yet this is exactly what they did. I
had just become comfortable with who I was working with, I was actually happy in
the situation I found myself. Both
Aldo and Sebastian had saved my butt with their special tools and it is because
of this that I use them as an example. These
situations were being repeated on many other occasions with other people and
a1most everyone wanted to stay with the crews that they were working with. Things had developed on a natural course L1p till then and it
felt right. But because of a
whining minority the big wigs were going to change everything and of course they
were the smart ones who could do it better than mother nature had up until this
of the impending shift change was given and pandemonium broke out. The situation
became so intense several shift supervisors went to the president of the company
to tell him this was a bad idea. Then
a meeting was called with the vice president and all employees were required to
attend. During the meeting we
voiced our opinions concerning the shift change and promises that were made by
the president of the company that went unaddressed, such as the lack of special
tools, the condition of the manlifts’, the lack of adequate paperwork etc.
All of this fell on deaf ears. The
attitude of the vice president was repugnant.
We made many attempts to get him to see the sensibility in keeping things
the way they were, but he would counter us with statements like, "Big
companies must have shift bids and shift changes so we might as well start
now." Oh, I get it now, the reason why they were having a shift bid was
because big companies have them. The
real reason was that these buffoon’s didn't feel important enough so they were
changing things around in order to feel more useful.
So they could feel like they were running a big company rather than
confronting the reality of the situation. They
were too busy playing children's games to mind the store. Finally Sebastian said, "So you're going to have a shift
bid and there is nothing we can do to change it." To which the V.P.
said, "That's right there's nothing you can do about it." When
the meeting was over with we found that they weren't going to pay us for
attending the meeting even though it had taken place an hour before our shift
began. From this point on I never
attended the meetings unless they took place during my shift.
After the schedule was changed nothing from that point on was quite the
thing that I want to elaborate further was the insensitivity management
displayed concerc1ing the shifts on a continuing basis.
It was worse with the sheet metal crews than it was with the A&P's.
Whenever someone believed that they could devise a working schedule that
would get the work done faster or save the company money the plan was
immediately adopted without examining the effects it could have on moral or
productivity. I was aware of guys
who had their schedules and shifts changed seven times during the course of one
inspection. What was causing this
was that the company was going down the tubes and everyone knew it. It seemed
that management refused to accept that they were a part of the problem. They
began to believe that they could get the work done faster or cheaper if they
changed the schedule. I base this
on the fact that when things looked their worst someone would come up with a
schedule change that management touted as the panacea of the companies ills.
The reality of the situation is that the cost of an inspection is fixed.
Because the parts come from one source, namely Boeing, you will have to
pay their price and so will your competitors.
The only factor in your control is time.
You can, under some conditions make an inspection take less time, but
only by organizing the work force better or performing certain tasks before the
airplane arrives for inspection. As
evidenced by the condition the entire facility was in and the events that had
transpired in the past, it was a certified fact that management was completely
disorganized and out of control. Aside
from what I have previously mentioned an inspection takes as long as it takes
and changing the schedule will do nothing to get the work completed faster.
Changing the schedule was a way for the middle morons to get the heat off
their backs and to hide how poorly organized they actually were.
could always counter any finger pointing with statements like, "Well I
reorganized the work force. If we
are still loosing money it must be because the mechanics are lazy."
This is one of the techniques listed in Dogberts' Top Secret Management Handbook
which leads me to wonder if some moron didn't realize that book was a joke and
took it seriously. The fact that they were underbidding themselves because they
were so desperate to sign a contract never occurred to them.
That's how stupid these people were.
company was partially subsidized by a highly prestigious airline from Japan and
we were scheduled to repair several of their airplanes.
We were also quite proud of having a contract with one of the largest
cargo carriers in the nation. Whenever we worked on these aircraft we could be
certain that the quality of workmanship would be high, because these companies
brought in their own inspectors to supervise the work and there was no way for
the company to degrade the quality of workmanship by imposing shortcuts.
However if we were working an airplane that was in storage in the bone
yard the rule book as well as the maintenance manual was thrown out the window.
Because of the companies attitude toward contracts other than the cargo
operator and the airline from Japan, we as mechanics, began to dislike working
on any of them. We couldn't go home at night with any satisfaction towards
our work and management didn't seem to care about anything as long as the
schedule was being met.
we were recruited by this company we were told that a major airline from Japan
was subsidizing the company and that the repair station had recently won it's
repair certificate. What they
neglected to tell us was that the certificate they had won was the U.S.
certificate only. Any aircraft from Japan that came in for repair would have
the work performed under a temporary permit.
If we were to establish a long term relationship with any carrier from
Japan we would have to obtain a Japanese repair station license.
Because of the newness of the company and the financial situation we
faced our survival as a company hinged on getting that license and obtaining the
license would hinge on the first airplane from Japan.
Which happened to be the second aircraft we worked on.
The aircraft was scheduled for a stay of fifty three days, which I
thought was completely unrealistic. We
all knew that if we didn't get that Japanese repair certificate we could very
easily loose our jobs. We knew that
we had to put the screw-ups behind us and do some real quality work or the
Japanese would be laughing at us in Tokyo.
The airplane arrived on my shift, but before we could begin our work the
airplane had to be inspected by customs because it had flown directly from
Japan. After clearing customs the
first thing we removed were the engines but we only had enough equipment to
remove two engines at a time. I was
working the number three engine and my crew had the engine hoist equipment
installed before the crew working on the other wing. As it turned out we got our engine on the ground and in it's
cradle before the shift was over. The
other crew was having some difficulty because someone had removed parts from the
engine hoist kit they were using. This
was a common occurrence at this facility. For example, when I had first arrived at this place they had
a wonderful landing gear strut servicing kit on wheels that would permit you to
service all the struts at the same time from a central console.
It was the nicest piece of equipment for this purpose I had ever seen and
within a month someone had torn it apart because they needed hose fittings for
something. We never got the unit repaired and from that time on
servicing the struts was a nightmare.
the end of the shift they were ready to lower the engine and the night shift
took over the responsibility for it. They
began to lower the engine and when it got close to the ground a piece of metal
pipe that was welded to the platform that the crew was using punched a hole the
size of a baseball into the engine nose cowling.
Boy were we starting out on the right foot.
Within minutes the Japanese inspectors were all over the airplane even
though it was past midnight when it occurred.
They got on the phone to Tokyo to inform their superiors of what had
happened. They were taking pictures of the damage from every angle.
weren't the only things we did to damage this particular airplane.
On one occasion while sheet metal was performing a service bulletin on
the aft pressure bulkhead an employee was caught using a steel putty knife to
scrape off the old sealant. The maintenance manual strictly forbids the use of any steel
tool on this part of the airplane because it can cause corrosion that is very
difficult to detect and because the aft pressure bulkhead must withstand a
tremendous amount of force from the pressurization of the cabin.
Next to the wing spars it is the most important piece of structure.
This was the only man that was fired on the spot from this facility that
I am aware of. We crashed manlifts’
into the airplane on numerous occasions. Sometimes
we even crashed the airplanes into the manlifts’.
During one time like this, we were pushing an airplane from Japan out of
the hangar with a tug. There were at least twenty people from the day shift walking
along with the airplane, that were supposed to be looking out fit it's safety as
it came out of the hangar. As the
airplane began to move backward, out of the hangar the number four engine hit a
man lift so hard the safety rails were partially ripped off of it.
This resulted in nearly a one foot hole being ripped into the engine
layman will probably find this a bit shocking, but in fact ground vehicles are
the greatest cause of structural damage to an airplane.
That is why you want to restrict the use of ground vehicles around the
airplane as much as possible, but when you don't have any scaffolding to work on
and all you have to use are manlifts’, those lifts are going to do some
damage. There's no way to avoid it.
on the first aircraft from Japan progressed and about half way through the
inspection someone somewhere noticed that paperwork to pickle the engines had
not been completed. Pickling an
engine is a term used to describe the preservation for storage procedure.
The airline from Japan followed every manufacturers recommendation to the
letter. In the U.S. engines are
only pickled when they are to remain in storage for a year or more.
These engines would be out of service for fifty three days.
Yet the work called for was part of the contract so it had to be done.
Only one problem, we had already removed the engines from the airplane.
The pickling procedure required that the engines be spooled up and the
only way to do that was by pneumatic power provided by the auxiliary power unit-
on the airplane or an air start cart from the ground.
The inspectors from Japan upon learning this went ballistic and refused
to let us get away without pickling the engines.
They told us flat out, "You will do it!" To accomplish this a
fitting had to be fabricated to connect the air supply line from the air start
cart to the engine. This is some
thing that the engine is not designed for.
Then the engine was attached to the air supply hose from the air start
cart and the engine was spooled up very, very slowly while the preservation
fluid was pumped into the engine as it sat in it's cradle on the ground.
This was a dangerous procedure, if they spooled up the engine too fast
the inertia generated could have caused the engine to roll over on it's side
crushing the crew that was pumping the preservative fluid in. Fortunately this mistake was never repeated again.
the final operational checks on the aircraft the Japanese inspectors displayed
how nit picky they could be. I was
sent up to the cockpit to replace some screws because they were round head
screws instead of flat head screws. When
I got to the cockpit there was crowd of mechanics and inspectors up there.
So many people I had to wait for them to clear out before I could even
look at the area I was supposed to fix. When
I finally got to the area it was evident to me that the screws couldn't be
replaced without removing the instrument panel which I knew we weren't going to
do. I went to avionics and asked them about the discrepancy and
was told that the reason round head screws were used instead of flat head screws
was because we had run out of flat head screws. I was told that the use of the round head screws had been
approved by the Japanese before they were installed. With this in mind why were they bringing it up again after
the cockpit had already been installed? We found out why later.
While the aircraft sat on the ramp during the operational checks the pens
the Japanese inspectors had were running out of ink.
We were overloaded with nit picky write-ups that would require major work
to fix them. One example that comes to mind was a write-up I got for a
scratched wall panel. It was so
small I had to find the Japanese inspector that wrote it up and have him show me
where the scratch was. When he
showed me the scratch, it was more like an abrasion than a scratch and was
nearly invisible. The only way to
properly fix it was to recover the wall panel.
This was something that we couldn't do because we would first have to
match the wall covering and then order it.
This was something that would take weeks to accomplish and should have
been written up weeks earlier to allow the needed research and delivery time.
If it was an issue it should have been brought up earlier, but it wasn't.
the operational checks a discrepancy in the rigging of the ailerons was found.
These are one the control surfaces that cause the aircraft turn and are
located on the wings. We were
totally stumped by this problem. We
checked and double checked the rigging of the entire system and could find
nothing wrong. When we asked to
look at the aircraft log books to determine if this problem had been reported
prior to arrival of the airplane at our facility the Japanese inspectors be
grudgingly let us look at the log book. When
we finally looked at the logs we found that there was a write-up about the
control surfaces being out of adjustment before the airplane had arrived at our
station and they had been unable to repair it even with assistance from Boeing.
We caught them trying to pull a fast one.
They were attempting to get something fixed that wasn't covered in the
contract and it was something that neither the Japanese airline or Boeing had
been able to fix. We also
discovered that the reason they were bogging us down with discrepancies was that
their union was complaining about the heavy maintenance being done by somebody
else and they were having difficulty dealing with them.
It was their hope that they could slow us down and delay the plane, which
would result in us losing the Japanese repair station certificate and any
further contracts with the airline from. Japan.
Then the heavy maintenance would return to the union mechanics Japan.
accident after accident occurred the Japanese inspectors totaled it all up and
produced a written report after the airplane departed for Japan.
Their report was detailed, concise and extremely accurate.
Some of the things the inspectors pointed out were fixed, but the
majority of them were not. None of
us could understand why? They were our most valued customer.
If they walked, we were in deep trouble.
But this was not the only time we would see inconsistent management,
later we would see even more flagrant examples.
the first aircraft from Japan departed for Tokyo we found ourselves working the
airplane we had bent in half again. The
reason for this was that somebody who was doing an engine run-up had over-temped
the number four engine during the start-up and a borescopic examination revealed
that there was damage. So we
brought the airplane into the hangar, removed the engine and installed a new
one. For some reason the
installation took a week when it should only have taken a day to complete.
Then another engine run-up had to be performed.
On the day the run-up was taking place I arrived at work early and went
to the ramp to watch it. After the
test was completed I went to the hangar to clock in and wait for my work
assignment. When my lead mechanic came out with the work assignments for
the day, he handed me the paperwork for the engine change and told me to sign
off the engine installation. I
examined the paperwork and discovered to my horror that virtually nothing was
signed off by anyone including the inspectors.
The guy who had done the engine run-up had done it without the paperwork
and as a result none of the engine readings had been recorded This would cause
us to do the run-up a second time to correct his mistakes. I wondered how an engine could have been installed over the
course of a week without an inspection sign off in the numerous places provided
for them. In the places provided
for the mechanic to sign the work off there were only a few items that had
actually been initialed by the mechanic. I
told my lead that the paperwork was incomplete and that I wouldn't sign a single
item off unless I had personally verified that the work had been done.
I told him if that meant that the engine had to be disassembled to verify
the torque on a bolt then that's the way it would be or he could get another
man. I was so angry that someone
could treat an airplane this way I was going to walk off the job.
If it hadn't been for John Collins trying to calm me down I would have.
Fortunately for the company, the engine mount bolts had been signed for
by both a mechanic and an inspector or I would have removed the engine to verify
the torque on them.
type of slovenly maintenance was the standard of the day at this place and I
could take no pride in my association with this company.
The conditions that prevailed were beginning to take their toll on me.
In time the only reason why I went to work was ensure that the company
did everything the way they were supposed to.
our first airplane from Japan arrived in Tokyo it went in for further heavy
maintenance. Not for anything we
had done to the airplane, but because the Japanese didn't trust us and they had
good reason. As they opened up the
airplane for inspection they found all kinds of stuff we had forgotten and left
inside the airplane. Things like
rags, screwdrivers, hardware, fasteners and the worst of it all was a flashlight
that was left inside the number one engine pylon.
They also found that there were over 120 rivet holes that we had failed
to put rivets in. All of these
things were boxed up with tags attached to them to indicate where the item was
found and then it was shipped back to us. To
the average person a flashlight might not seem like a big deal.
But it becomes a big deal when you consider the location where it was
found and what can happen to the batteries after spending many months inside the
airplane. We have all seen what
happens to old flashlight batteries. They
leak a corrosive fluid. Now put
these batteries inside the number one engine support pylon.
Yah, the fin that comes down from the wing that the engine is attached
to. Now you have a corrosive fluid
eating away the structural components that keep the engine attached to the
though the airplane was delivered a week late we got the Japanese repair station
certificate and there was a big celebration held at a private resort in the
mountains. But the employees in
general were never invited. This
was a private celebration that had been kept a secret from the employees at
large by management. At this party
they dined on steak and Champaign and celebrated their great victory.
But the people who had actually done the work and made it happen were
never invited. During the
celebration everyone in attendance received a thousand dollar bonus check.
The employees who had done the work got cookies and coke during a shift
break on their own time.
the junk equipment we had to work with it would be easy to assume that there
were allot of accidents that took place at this company and you would be
correct. In one month we had
sixteen work related injuries. Most
of them were because a mechanic was doing something he shouldn't have.
There were also the normal accidents you would expect to find like tools
falling on someone's head from above, people slipping on oily floors and things
of this nature. There was one occasion when I was working inside the cabin of an
airplane in the hangar, when the plane which was on jacks at the time, shook
violently and at the same time there was a loud bang.
I thought someone had driven a man lift into the plane so I went outside
to find out what had happened. I
walked underneath the plane and discovered that someone was removing the landing
gear from the airplane. They had
disconnected one of the landing gear braces without de pressurizing the landing
gear shock strut. When the brace
had been removed the pressure in the strut caused it to extend rapidly and
shoved the wheels forward. This
wouldn't have been so bad if a mechanic had not been standing on top of the
strut when it happened. Fortunately for him, all he got was sprained ankle.
It could have taken off his foot like a laser.
Later there was a safety meeting about the incident where the supervisor
giving the meeting said that the mechanics had been told to de pressurize the
strut. I asked if the mechanics had
the maintenance manual and he completely ignored my question, so I asked again a
little louder. The supervisor
looked off into the distance and said, Yah they had paperwork." This meant
that they didn't have the maintenance manual and the work was being done by the
sign off sheets which don't have all the steps for the removal written on them.
By law the maintenance manual is the only approved document for
performing any work on an airplane.
night I was checking for air leaks around the passenger doors during a cabin
pressurization leak check with inspector Gilberto Castellanos.
The two of us were standing in a propane powered cherry picker when the
damn thing died on us and caught on fire. There
we were, thirty-five feet off the ground waiting for the propane tank to explode
when the fire got to it. I turned
to Gill and said, "Well," what do we do now?" Smoke was pouring
out of the cherry picker and we started to yell for help, but because we were
near the tail of the airplane and the auxiliary power unit was running no one
could hear us. Finally someone
noticed the smoke and came over with a fire extinguisher and put out the fn-e. By that time another mechanic came over to us with a second
cherry picker and we climbed from one cherry picker basket to the other and
finally got back on the ground.
thing a good mechanic will learn is to avoid possible injury.
When you are dealing with heavy equipment such as cranes, manlifts’ and
wenches you should learn what might happen if something goes wrong and place
your body in such a way so that if it happens you wont be in harms way when it
does. I can think of a situation
that clearly demonstrates this in action. One
afternoon I was working with a crew that had to move an engine from a cradle to
a shipping stand. To do this we
were installing a harness that would permit the crane to lift the engine.
This harness is not light enough to be handled by people so it was lifted
into place over the top of the engine by the crane.
As we were attaching the harness to the engine I noticed that if I stood
in front of the harness it could swing out and hit me in the head if it was
mistakenly lifted by the crane operator. So
I stepped off to the side away from the harness just as it swung out toward me.
I don't think I would be writing this now if I had been standing where I
the second airplane from Japan arrived we made even more serious blunders.
On one evening we were lowering the number four engine when the brake on
the crane quit working again. This
let the engine fall to the ground from a height of about two feet and when they
tried to pick it back up so the engine cradle could be put underneath it, it
fell to the ground a second time. The
problem wasn't caused by the operator of the crane he was a very competent
mechanic, the problem was caused by bad equipment and bad maintenance on the
evening I was working with a crew that was installing the number one engine on
an airplane from Japan. We
installed the engine hoisting tackle and then proceeded to do the engine mount
bolt running torque test. The
running torque test is done to determine the strength of the self locking
feature of the engine mount nuts. Self
locking nuts are threaded in such a way that they don't require cotter pins or
safety wire to ensure that the nut can't come off from vibration. As the tip of the bolt is screwed into the nut the diameter
of the opening becomes gradua1ly smaller. This
increases the amount of force required to screw the bolt in as it penetrates
further into the nut. Running
torque is a test that measures this resistance.
If the nut is worn out there will be virtually no resistance to turning
and the nut will have to be replaced. If
it isn't the self locking feature of the nut is reduced which can permit the
bolt to unscrew itself as it is subjected to the vibration of a running engine.
This can result in the engine separating from the airplane in flight.
When we tested the forward engine mount cone bolt nut for the running
torque it failed the test. The
forward engine mount cone bolt is a bolt that has a shank the shape of a cone
and mates into an engine mounting fixture that is cone shaped on the inside of
it. Of all the engine mount bolts
the cone bolt is the most important because it is placed at the front of the
engine and there is only one of them. A
frantic search for another cone bolt nut ensued while I went to the parts
department to get a new one.
I was waiting for the parts man one of my crew members informed me that they had
looked everywhere and couldn't find another nut. Then the parts man came back and told me that they were out
of the nuts. I then informed my
lead mechanic of the situation and he checked the running torque on the nut for
himself and again it failed. Meanwhile
another lead mechanic was looking through the parts department for us and he
came back with a nut of a different style that would fit and was self locking.
He gave it to and said that we could put this one on.
The appearance of this nut was completely different and I asked him if
this was an approved substitution and he told me it was and walked away. When Bobby Baugh, our inspector saw the nut he was unsure
about it and had his supervisor check to see if it was an approved substitution
and it turned out that it wasn't. This
lead mechanic had searched the parts room for anything that would fit and told
us it was alright to use it. Bobby
Baugh had caught them pulling the most deadly stunt I can think of.
Because the nut they gave us was a common steel nut it would never carry
the load the engine would put on it for long.
This would turn every flight into a game of Russian Roulette. Would this
be the day a 12,500 pound engine separated from the airplane in flight?
How many people would get killed when it hit the ground? Bobby's
attention to detail saved allot of lives that night.
occasion where I was nearly killed happened on our third Japanese airplane.
The evening it arrived I was assigned to remove the flap track fairing's
directly behind the number three engine. At
the same time there was a crew performing the engine preservation on all of the
engines. Ordinarily this wouldn't
pose a safety problem for me or any of the other mechanics working on the
airplane but this was not an ordinary evening.
We had this guy from a foreign country that thought he knew everything
there was to know about airplanes. Unfortunately
he was smart enough to fool a few people. This
mechanic was so loathsome he became known by everyone as "The Camel."
He was given permission to perform engine run-ups at idle power only, but he
didn't know the first thing about taking charge in cockpit.
As the evening progressed the engine preservation crew had finally worked
their way to the number three engine which I was working behind.
During the engine preservation procedure the fuel supply line to the
engine is disconnected at the engine and a hand pump is attached to the engine
fuel inlet. This permits the
preservative fluid to be pumped into the fuel system by the hand pump.
The purpose of the fluid is to purge the fuel system of any fuel which
might contain traces of water which could corrode the internal parts of the
engine fuel control while the engine is stored. In actuality it is a bit more complicated than that, but this
is the basic idea behind the procedure. Because
the fuel control is basically a medium pressure engine driven fuel pump, it is
physically impossible to pump the fluid into the engine without first spooling
the engine up. This causes the
engine driven pump in the fuel control to pump the fluid into the fuel system.
The hand pump only delivers the fluid to the engine driven fuel pump.
Now you might be wondering about that disconnected fuel supply line and
this is part of what can make this procedure dangerous.
As long as the fuel shut off valves are closed, no fuel can be discharged
through the disconnected fuel supply line.
This is where the problem began. "The
Camel" refused to take command of his area of responsibility, namely the
cockpit. He would let anyone come
into the cockpit and start flipping switches without even asking them what they
were doing. He also thought that he
was too smart to need a checklist. As
the engine was spooled up I continued to work on the flap track fairing's behind
the engine. I didn't think that I
would be in any danger until fuel began to pour out of the engine and I could
hear the pop pop pop of the engine ignitors.
The engine continued to increase in RPM and a fuel mist began to form
behind the engine and I knew I was about to become a crispy critter.
what went wrong? Not only was there a crew working the engine preservation but
at the same time there was another crew that was de-fueling the airplane.
Anytime the aircraft is being de-fueled there is a person stationed in
the cockpit to monitor the procedure. This
guy was using the electric boost pumps to aid in the de-fueling process and
opened the crossfeed valve between number three and four fuel tanks.
This in itself posed no problem and was an acceptable thing to do.
What this mechanic was not aware of was that the fuel shutoff valve to
the number three engine had not been closed as the checklist for the engine
preservation requires. Because the valve wasn't closed, fuel under pressure was
permitted to enter the disconnected engine fuel supply line while the engine was
spooling up. This in itself would
only impose a small amount of danger and make a big mess that would have to be
cleaned up. The high voltage
ignitors were another story. The
checklist requires that both ignitor systems be shut off and in addition to this
the ignitor circuit breakers were to be pulled.
The reason for pulling the circuit breakers is to provide the greatest
level of safety. After all, there
could be a short circuit in the switch that could provide power to the ignitors
and you would never know it. Pulling
the circuit breakers makes sure this can't happen.0bviously Boeing was concerned
about unintentional ignition or they would not have required in the checklist
for the circuit breakers to be pulled.
fuel was blowing behind the engine in a fine mist. This reduces it's vapor pressure and flash point making it
very easy to ignite. Since we had
an ignition source in the form of the igniters the chances were very good that
we could have started one hell of a fire and injured many people especially me.
thing to consider about this incident was related to me by Chris Hunter who was
a mechanic in my crew. Chris was
inside the cabin and happened to be looking out one of the windows when the
accident occurred. He immediately
went to the cockpit and found that only one of the two igniter systems had been
turned off and that none of the circuit breakers had been pulled and that the
fuel shutoff valve was open. If
"The Camel" was so smart how come he only shut down one igniter
system. Nearly every airplane since
the Wright Brothers has had dual ignition systems and fuel shut off valves.
of the problem was caused by the companies failure to place a man in charge of
all operations in the cockpit. Combined
with a lack communication and acceptance of responsibility on the part of
"The Camel" and the mechanic monitoring the de-fueling of the
airplane. Naturally the use of the
checklist would have prevented all of this from happening.
The crazy part about all of this is that, "The Camel" never
even had to clean up the fifty gallons of jet fuel he spilled on the ramp.
I did - while he hid up in the cockpit!
of this brings back something I was told in machinist technician school in the
Coast Guard. I had a teacher there
who disliked careless people that screwed up. He said, "That there was
never a careless person that killed himself.
They always kill someone else and live to tell about it." I am
constantly amazed at how true this is.
our recruitment we were told that this facility had five years of contracts
signed and the work was expected to continue for a long time.
What no one expected was that the airline industry would continue it's
downward spiral to oblivion. Many
airlines were putting their 747's on the ground because the passenger load
factors just weren't high enough to warrant the use of them.
This resulted in many cancellations of contracts that had been signed.
The work we were supposed to have vaporized over a period of six months.
As the third and last airplane from Japan was being put back together the
last airplane from the cargo carrier was undergoing its final operational
marked the end of that contract and we all speculated on whether or not the
cargo carrier would sign another contract with us. As it turned out they didn't.
When this occurred we began to speculate on when we would be laid off.
A manager came down and told us that unequivocally there would be no lay
offs, which basically told us to bend over, here it comes again.
The irony of the situation was that the day after this manger told us
that we weren't going to be laid off he was.
the work disappearing, the company began to desperately search for ways to lower
their operating expenses. Supposedly
somebody had sent a recommendation to management that we could save allot of
money by turning in our uniform pants. This
idea really wasn't a bad one, if it had been kept as simple as turning in our
pants but the vice president wanted us to pay for the pants that were soiled to
the point that the uniform company couldn't use them.
When notice of the proposal was given a near riot ensued amongst the
troops. Once again supervisors went
to the president and begged him not to do this.
Up until this time I had remained silent about what was happening around
me. However I couldn't remain
silent about this. It was not only
wrong it was flat out against the law. I
went to the library and began to research the California labor code concerning
uniforms that were required by the employer to be worn while at work and
discovered that we could not be held liable for the cost of any uniforms that
were required by our company to be worn at work.
With this information in hand I composed a letter to the vice president
informing him about what the law stated concerning his plan. I left it up to him to figure out he was setting himself up
for a big day in court. I doubt
that if hadn't stuck my neck out and wrote this letter we never would have
arrived at a mutual agreement. We
would have paid $ 13 .50 for every pair of pants that they couldn't give back to
the uniform supply company.
thing I would like to say in regard to the letter I sent to the vice president
concerns a comment that was made to me by my shift supervisor.
This shift supervisor had become the biggest brown noser in the whole
company. He never failed to take
credit for other peoples accomplishments and never had a shortage of dangerous
short cuts. It was these short cuts
that earned him the nickname of Hacksaw. My
letter had produced quite a stir amongst the employees.
I had given my roommate a copy of my letter for him to read and told him
to take it to work with him. My
reason was that I wanted the rest of our crew to know that I was sticking my
neck out for them. I figured that I
would need as much support as possible if the letter blew up in my face.
I didn't expect was that the crew liked it so much they posted it on the
bulletin board for everyone to read on all shifts and it remained there for
several days. Two days after this I
was standing at the parts counter to get a part and Hacksaw came over and stood
next to me. The first thing out of
his mouth was, "You upset allot off people with your letter." To which
I replied, "Oh really? What do you think about it?" Hacksaw then said,
"You probably don't have a career here anymore." I grabbed my part and
walked away wondering what made him think any of us had a career here.
The point I am trying to make is that half the company was full of YES
MEN who didn't have enough spine left in them to allow them to stand upright.
I used to think this was America, where you had freedom of speech so long
as you spoke the truth and didn't slander anyone.
I guess I'm not living in America anymore, because now my boss can
threaten me for speaking my mind and I am forced to defend my civil rights at
every turn as if I were guilty of something.
have always liked to tug aircraft around because it is the closest I will ever
get to flying them. After all
you're making the airplane move. For
the same reason I have always enjoyed taxi and run-ups.
But at this company it became dangerous. We had allot of airplanes that were in storage and had been
cannibalized extensively. They were
also being stored with no fuel onboard so it was impossible to run the auxiliary
power units (A.P.U.) during any tugging operation.
Without the A.P.U. you had no running lights and no brakes, because you had
nothing to pressurize the hydraulic system without the A.P.U. At first this didn't bother me too much because I was very
careful and I worked with the best crew there.
I trusted my skills and the people I worked with on my crew.
During a cockpit orientation class however the instructor who had retired
from T.W.A. told us we should never
tug an aircraft without the A.P.U. or the electric hydraulic pump on.
I told him that we were doing it all the time and asked him what the big
deal was. He said that even on
perfectly dry pavement a 747 can snap a tow bar in half and get away from you.
I told him that it didn't bother me much because I was good and it hadn't
happened at this facility that I was aware of.
He then told me that it didn't matter how good I was, that it had already
happened and explained the circumstances of the incident.
I felt like a guy who had been playing Russian Roulette and had just
discovered how dangerous the game actually was.
I felt like I had been taken advantage of, because.
Everyone knew I loved to tug aircraft.
At the same time they had to have known that I didn't understand the
hazards of the situation and wouldn't have done it had I truly been aware.
After hearing this I went to my lead mechanic and told him that I would
no longer tug an aircraft without brakes.
the weeks passed Christmas was getting closer.
It had already been revealed to us that the cargo carrier would not be
coming back and that the airline from Japan was so upset over the quality of
workmanship we were performing that they refused to send us anymore aircraft.
All we had left to work on was an airplane from the bone yard that was
coming out of storage and we were beginning to put it back together already.
Then one day I came to work and found that 50% of the work force had been
furloughed and that it was effective immediately without any prior notification.
The furlough was supposed to last over the Christmas holidays and I was
to report back to work a month later to a 10% pay cut.
Since I was already at the bottom of the pay scale, making the same
salary I was earning in 1988 when I got into this line of work it, came as quite
a blow. Especially considering the-
fact that we were promised a pay raise, not a cut.
I was reaching my limit of endurance with this company and found to my
disappointment that I was not on the lay off list.
By this time I wanted out of there so bad I went to the director of
personnel and told him that I wanted to take the place of any employee that was
laid off I knew that the furlough would force everyone to work harder and that
if I thought things were bad now they were about to become worse.
In my current state of mind I knew I couldn't handle it and didn't want
to. I also figured the company
would be better off with a man that wanted to stay.
I spent a month over the holidays with my family in Phoenix, Arizona.
This was actually the first time in years I had been able to have time
off for Christmas and I returned to work having regained my positive attitude
and completely relaxed and refreshed. This
lasted for about two weeks.
I left for Phoenix I had to drop off a resume for somebody and found that most
of the mechanics that were not furloughed were performing an inventory over at
shipping and receiving. When I got
over there they were very busy with the inventory. They were updating the computer database with the quantity of
parts we had on hand, so we would have more accurate information to make
purchases in the future. I noticed
that this would have been a perfect time to group the parts of a like kind
together and asked the parts man if they were doing that and he replied that he
was told by his supervisor not to. Here
we had an excellent opportunity to fix this problem and we blew it.
my furlough I received a phone call from one of my friends that was still at
work. He told me that the Air Force
had caught one of our crews tugging an airplane from the bone yard.
The thing about the incident that had attracted the attention of the Air
Force was that the airplane was missing the left wing landing gear, the right
body landing gear, the number three and four engines were removed and huge block
of concrete the size of a VW bug was dangling from the number four engine pylon
to serve as a counterweight for the missing engines.
The airplane was in tow without an A.P.U. and as a consequence had no
running lights or brakes. I was
told by the mechanic who called me, that the maintenance manual specifically
states that the aircraft can only be towed with two of the same type of main
landing gear. In other words you
can tow an airplane with either both wing landing gears or both body landing
gears, but you can't have one of each type, which was the case here.
I presume that the incident was dropped because I never heard anything
further about it. What damage was
done to the airplane, if any, I couldn't even say I'm not an engineer.
What I can say is that if the maintenance manual says not to do it, it's
usually for one of two reasons, to protect the mechanic or the airplane.
It is always wise to follow the directions in the maintenance manual.
But at this place you could spend all day looking for someone that was
guy who called me on the phone told me that five days after the company
furloughed half the work force it became apparent to them that they didn't have
enough mechanics to finish the airplane on time. This resulted in a frantic rush to call people back.
Nearly everyone that was furloughed had come from out of state and here
they were, with basically an unpaid extended vacation during the holidays.
They did what most people would in similar circumstances. They went back where they came from. The went home for the holidays.
Because of this the company was only able to get a handful of people to
come back. When I was told this by
my friend I just laughed and told him that this company couldn't plan a taxi cab
for a bank robbery.
spending a month away from work I returned to work with trepidation.
My parents had told me that they really didn't want me to go back.
I told them that I had to. When
I returned to work only half the people furloughed had come back.
This meant that there was a total reduction in the work force of about
25%. Which is what I expected would
happen. Because there wasn't enough
people to do the work, contractors or job shoppers were called in and I expected
this would happen also. If the
quality of workmanship on our part was bad the quality of work these guys turned
out was unbelievably poor.
lessor of the airplane we were working on had recently found a new operator for
it and we were busy performing a heavy maintenance inspection on the airplane,
to make it ready for return to service by it's new operator.
Part of the work we were doing was a modification to the cabin floor
beams directly over the landing gear wheel wells.
The modification requires the floor beams to be replaced with stronger
ones. These beams are precision
manufactured parts. The cost of one of them would buy you a 75 ft.
yacht. The crew that was
installing them drilled a few holes in the wrong spot and two of the new beams
had to be removed and scrapped. The
crew doing the floor beams had no previous experience with this modification and
were having difficulty reading the blueprints.
Because of their mistake and other mistakes that were being made delivery
of the airplane was set back a month and eight million over budget.
I was doing my best to make it on my paycheck that was reduced by 10%.
I was having a pretty rough time and the most frustrating part of it was
that I had spent five years in this business and I was making less money than I
was when I got into aircraft maintenance. On
top of that I was living in California experiencing that wonderful high cost of
living. I hung on as long as I
could by myself, but I was eventually forced to take in a roommate.
In the beginning this was no real problem to me because Doc Holliday had
been my roommate when I started work there.
He and I had become very close friends and my experience with him was a
very positive one. I was hoping
that taking in another roommate again would be just as good an experience as it
had before. Unfortunately this was
not to be. The guy that moved in
with me brought his common law wife with him and both were nuttier than fruit
cakes. I'm not talking about being
eccentric, I'm talking psychotic here. First
I never should have taken in a contractor because of the way they are forced to
live. Second I never should have taken in somebody I knew nothing about.
I lost complete control over the situation and was terrified of what
might happen if I asked them to leave. I
literally began to fear for my life. I
began to recall episodes from the TV series "Unsolved Mysteries" where
things started out exactly like what I was experiencing.
Then when the guy started talking about people he had killed and I knew I
was in deep trouble. I had been
discussing the situation with a friend of mine looking for some advice.
He told me that he couldn't understand why I was wasting my time with
this company when I could live rent free at my fathers house in Phoenix, Arizona
and seek employment with America West or Southwest while I was working at any
job I could find. I told him that
the suggestion he gave me was a good one but I wanted to make it on my own.
all of the things that were happening at this company there was a big push to
bring a union in. Most of the
mechanics had come from union shops and believed that this was what we needed to
get management to accept responsibility for the mess that they were making and
to look after our interests. At
first I didn't think too much of a union, but after the uniform pants, I began
to think that we needed some kind of protection and I didn't have the resources
or liked the idea of doing it myself. I
a1so wondered what other plans they were hatching in those twisted minds and I
knew that there was more of the same coming down the pike. All things considered the un1form pants was the convincer for
me. As time passed enough names
were gathered on a petition to call a vote to bring in the union. A week before the vote was to take place a memo was issued by
the president regarding the use of the parking lot next to the hangar.
I thought this issue had been settled in court by a federal judge.
T'hen,0n the day of the union vote the chief of security began to ticket
cars in the lot again. No one could
believe the company could be that stupid or that hostile to it's own employees
on the day of the union vote and for many this was the convincer for them.
The voting took place and the union won.
Several days passed after the vote, the posters on the union bulletin
board were removed. The union
seemed to vanish in the distance and it wasn't until a long time after I quit
that they were ever heard from again.
came to work one day and learned from my supervisor that we would soon be
receiving ninety day lay off notices in the mail. Several mechanics told me to get used to it because this
would be what the company would do whenever it couldn't guarantee that there
would be work for us. I came to the
realization that we were no better off than a job shopper or contractor in
regard to job security. I wasn't in
a very good mood the rest of the day. We
were installing the insulation blankets in the airplane that evening and I was
supposed to be in charge of it. Not
that I was getting paid more or that I was promoted.
My lead mechanic just wanted someone to supervise when needed and I
really didn't mind. Stu Brosch one
my best friends was bringing in the insulation blankets for us to install when
he told me that it looked like the rest of the blankets for our area were not
numbered. This would mean that they
would have to be installed like a huge jigsaw puzzle since we couldn't tell by
the numbers where they went. He
asked me what we should do about it and I stood there for a moment trying to
think of an easy way to finish the job. It
was at this moment I heard my lead mechanic yelling my name and asking me what I
was doing. I told him we were out
of numbered insulation blankets thinking he could figure the rest out for
was standing on the other side of the floor beam modification and motioned for
me to come over to him. When I
finally got myself on the other side of the floor beam modification he started
screaming at me, saying that he told me not to be standing around.
I figured that if he could yell at me I could yell at him and when I did
he pulled rank on me and got a supervisor involved in it.
As we were walking to see the supervisor I told him that this was not the
way to be treating people, to which he reacted with an indifferent shrug of his
shoulders. As it turned out I was
only briefly disciplined. This
situation revealed some interesting things, one of which was that I was being
singled out. After all Stu was
standing next to me and he wasn't doing anything at the time either.
Why didn't he get yelled at? Later I discovered that I was also being
watched and I realized that they were trying to build a case against me,
undoubtedly because I had stepped on someone's toes.
evening I came to work and found there was a meeting with the new president of
the company to discuss the future of the company and the signing of additional
contracts. This was the first
meeting with the new president since he had taken the helm. I was looking forward to the meeting so I would have a chance
to see what kind of man the president was and where he was going to take the
company. As it turned out the man
was a spineless weasel that avoided recognizing any of the issues we presented
to him. I was thoroughly disgusted
and wondered why I had even bothered to attend the meeting.
we were putting the lessor airplane back together the pressure was really poured
on us to hurry up. The company had
been stupid enough to set a delivery date the was completely unrealistic.
The heat had been turned up so high I found myself cutting off screw
heads and gluing the heads in screw holes with super glue during an access panel
installation. I was doing this to
get the supervisors off my back. Needless
to say I didn't like it, but I was trapped.
I became ashamed of the work that I was forced to do.
I began to think more and more about my fathers house in Phoenix and what
I would do if I decided to quit. I
thought of the horrible situation I was having at home with my roommate and then
it all became so clear. If I quit I
could move to Phoenix and that would solve both my problems. After I came to this realization it was simply a matter of
walking into the office. They
didn't even want a two week notice.
reached the end of this chapter I need to make some statements in conclusion.
The first thing that comes to mind concerns the way the white shirts ran
this company. I am left wondering
where they learned their management techniques.
Is this what they are teaching people in business schools these days? If
it is no wonder our industries are so poorly run.
If there is one thing that I have learned from my limited experience is
that people will endure almost any hardship as long as they are working for a
company that treats them fairly and allows them to be satisfied with their work.
You can under pay them, you can sail the company past the gates of Hell
and they will still work just as hard for you.
As long as you can treat your employees fairly and give them the chance
to be satisfied with their work they will do anything you ask.
Deny them just one of these two things and you will be able to watch the
resignation lines form as if they were being led by a pied piper.
after time we watched management do things to us that would never have been done
by anyone that was concerned about our company. Simple logic would have dictated to the contrary.
We spent days speculating what their real motives were and never came to
a conclusion. Obviously they
weren't concerned about making the company survive or they would have done
things differently. What did
concern them never became apparent and I would have to say that management got
what it deserved and the mechanics paid for it dearly.
I hope management is happy. We
certainly aren't, but then experience is what you get, when you don't get what
Now that my employment with this company is over, reflecting back on the last five years doesn't leave me with a warm feeling. As far as the pay is concerned I have ended where I began and although I now have five years in this business the experience hasn't been all that helpful in getting a new job. This is probably due to the fact that the job market is flooded with mechanics from Eastern and Pan Am that have over fifteen years of experience. I am hoping that my experience in computers, which I gained as a maintenance planner will allow me to get out of aviation. If this doesn't happen, where I will go and what I will do is anybody’s guess. All I can say is that I have worked too long and too hard to wind up like this.
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